REVIEW: Cheat Codes at Summerfest

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EDM is a fickle thing; because there are so many similarities between acts, over time the genre begins to become a parody of itself at some point. Cheat Codes’ set at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse on Wednesday night felt like that parody. While you want to give the act the benefit of the doubt, especially considering this is the third big EDM headliner of this year’s festival, the group made it increasingly hard to do so. On a day that included sweltering heat, followed by two downpours and a lightning delay, it felt as though Cheat Codes’ set at Summerfest was still somehow the worst thing to happen to the festival on the 4th of July.

The set began with nobody on stage, yet music was piped through the speakers, which is fine. It’s an intro. However, the entirety of an EDM act itself is the DJ mixing music, so maybe not a promising start. The trio of Trevor Dahl, Kevin Ford, and Matthew Russell then took the stage to start dropping bass like it was nobody’s business. Ford and Russell would alternate turns at the tables for most of the night, while Dahl served the role of continual hypeman. Although, it could be argued that there was at least one too many DJs on stage, as the one that was not currently mixing generally was without assignment, resorting to the role of backup hypeman, which felt a bit superfluous.

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In all fairness, Dahl would do his best to get the crowd moving, and the crowd definitely moved, bounced, and jumped accordingly. The bass hit hard, and a mixture of dubstep, pop, and house music kept the energy up. However, the stage presence of the trio was nothing short of uninspiring. While Dahl would eventually take his shirt off and run around the crowd, at times coming into the bleachers with his wireless mic, vocally the group was unappealing as a whole. Dahl would occasionally sing the hooks of the remixes being dropped, but either a bad microphone or a low mix made it appear as though he was lip syncing, and for all we know, that could have been the case. I wouldn’t bet against it.

The real kicker, though, were the onstage antics that came off as a mixture of routine pandering to the crowd and genuine ineptitude. Littered between bass drops and the seemingly standard issue steam cannons on stage were shouts of “oh shit!” and “everybody jump!”, and the occasional feigned attempt at thanking the crowd for coming out. Dahl at one point picked up a wad of singles, fanned himself with it, and asked “who likes money?”, before stating that whoever sang along the loudest would get the cash. Multiple times, the crew would bring out people from the back, and introduce them as “their boy” or “their guy” or similar accolades, before having them do seemingly nothing on stage but watch the DJ table for about 30 seconds at a time, or yell into an onstage cameraman’s lens. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that The Lonely Island’s “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” had been reinterpreted as a stage show. Dahl put on a fuzzy Uncle Sam hat at one point, and instructed the crowd to make noise for the hat, and informed us all that “this hat is tight”. Andy Samberg couldn’t have delivered the line better.

Within the context of the other major EDM shows at Summerfest this year, Cheat Codes seemed to be par for the course in terms of the actual music being played on stage. However, that’s only one of the things that makes a festival set fun, and the group came up short on all of the other elements that help accomplish that task. To call their set amateur would be a bit much, but then again, to call the group’s act on Wednesday night professional would be an overstatement, as well.

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